This series is set in the 1920s and produced during the 1990’s, so immediately people think it’s going to be dated,have no relevance and be unwatchable. I hasten to disagree. I could wax lyrical about the costumes (which won a BAFTA and an Emmy) and the intricate mise en scene used to recreate the atmosphere, but I won’t, on the grounds that it sounds pretentious. However, the aforementioned factors do contribute to the over all success of the show. What makes this series different from other ‘period costume dramas’ is the acting, the central characters and the overall premise.
Throughout the three series of ‘The House of Eliott,’ it is the excellent performances of Stella Gonet, as Beatrice, and Louise Lombard, as Evangeline, that make the programme so watchable. Their characters undergo major transformations as the series progresses and the actresses effectively portray their development at each stage with great credibility.
Initially Stella Gonet plays the protective, embittered sister who is in danger of enforcing her jaded opinions on her younger, innocent sister. As the series evolves, she begins to ‘loosen up’ without losing any of the original vehemence from earlier episodes. The transition from self appointed matriarch to fierce businesswoman, loving wife and mother is expertly played.
Louise Lombard’s complex character is a great show ground for her ability to convey innocents and experience in one fell swoop. Throughout series one, her character is naïve and protected, by the end of series three, she has become a reflection of her independent, forthright sister.
It’s worth watching for Stella Gonet’s and Louise Lombard’s performances alone. Very few actresses have the ability to play characters you are able to love, hate, sympathise with and respect simultaneously as successfully as they do.
Jack Maddox, played by Aiden Gillet, also undergoes great a change; from the Jazz Age inspired free spirit to the avid politician. Again the performance is consistently believable throughout. His character also often injects some much-needed humour and the numerous disagreements with Beatrice prove to be some of the show's most emotionally charged moments.
The contribution ‘minor’ characters make should not be over looked. In series one, it is the Penny Maddox, Aunt Lydia, Cousin Arthur and Daphne Haycock vignettes that offer some relief from the show’s preoccupation with the burgeoning fashion house. In the later series, interwoven storylines involving the seamstresses from the workroom, most notably Tilly, Madge, Agnes and Betty, offer a similar diversion. They help to make it compulsive viewing.
I admit that in parts, the script is rather trite. However, there are flashes of inspiration, and there are many one-liners that are well worth listening out for. You should play close attention to, any confrontation between Beatrice and Jack, Aunt Lydia’s reflections on society, and the banter of the seamstresses in the workroom.
I think it’s all too easy to knock period costume dramas. I honestly don’t think you should view this one too harshly. Give it a chance, you might even like it. Oh, and the costumes and mise en scene are excellent by the way. As if there was any doubt.